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"Buying Into Baltimore" first-time home buyer incentive increased

Buying a home in Baltimore just got $1000 less expensive for potential homebuyers. Baltimore Housing has increased its funding commitment to Live Baltimore's popular "Buying Into Baltimore" event. A total of $200,000 will be made available this fall for qualified event participants. First time homebuyers can now receive $4,000, towards their homes. Prior to the funding increase the grants were $3,000. A total of 50 awards will be available.

This fall's "Buying Into Baltimore" event will take place on Saturday, September 11 from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School, 3500 Hillen Road. It will feature the City's East Side neighborhoods.

Live Baltimore has organized the biannual "Buying into Baltimore" program since 1998. It includes neighborhood tours, educational workshops and an exhibitor fair.Participation in the tours as well as homeownership counseling qaulifies participants to receive funds for the downpayment or closing costs of a city home. Baltimore Housing provides the funding and administers the money, structured as five-year forgivable loans.

"We are very excited about this increased commitment by Baltimore Housing to encourage homeownership," says Anna Custer, Live Baltimore executive director. "With the expiration of the federal homebuyer tax credit, many potential buyers are sitting on the sidelines. We're hopeful this bigger award will help buyers get back in the game."

To receive the funds, participants must:

1) live in the desired home as the primary owner/occupant,

2) possess a valid homeownership counseling certificate,

3) participate in the "Buying into Baltimore" tour and have the tour ticket validated at four homes,

4) buy in the eastern part of Baltimore (see Live Baltimore website for boundary details),

5) purchase a home that is less than $417,000, and

6) sign the home sales contract after the event takes place.

Funds are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Participants must close on a house within 90 days of the eastern region fair to receive the $4,000 award. There are no income restrictions on this program, nor does a recipient have to be a first-time homebuyer. Full details about the award and the event are available on the organization's website: www.livebaltimore.com/bib.

"The market is ripe with great opportunities for first time home buyers," says Baltimore Housing Commissioner, Paul T. Graziano. "Baltimore is a great place to live and low interest rates matched with our $4000 in financial assistance could help the perspective home buyer capitalize immensely on the current market."

Source: Live Baltimore
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Baltimore Regional Transportation Board wants to know what the public thinks of "Plan It 2035" goals

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB) is asking for public comments on the proposed goals for Plan It 2035, the next long-range transportation plan for the Baltimore region.

Plan It 2035 will outline how to best allocate funding to meet the region's transportation needs and challenges over the next 25 years. Federal law requires that each metropolitan area's long-range transportation plan be updated every 4 years. Three years have passed since the latest plan - Transportation Outlook 2035 - was approved. Now it's time to take another look at our transportation systems and the challenges the region will face over the next quarter-century.

One of the first steps the BRTB is taking in this process is to develop goals for Plan It 2035. The draft goals are:

1. Improve Transportation System Safety
2. Preserve the Existing Infrastructure
3. Improve Accessibility
4. Increase Mobility
5. Preserve the Environment
6. Improve Transportation System Security
7. Promote Prosperity and Economic Opportunity
8. Foster Inter-jurisdictional Participation and Cooperation

Each draft goal includes strategies for implementation. The goals and strategies may be viewed online.

The draft goals are open for public review and comment through Tuesday, September 14.

A public meeting to answer questions and accept comments will be held on Tuesday, August 31 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council (2700 Lighthouse Point East, Suite 310, Baltimore, MD 21224). Comments may be submitted at this public meeting or during the Public Comment Opportunity at the BRTB meeting** on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 9:00 am (tentative vote).

The public is also invited to review and comment on the proposed goals for Plan It 2035 in writing. Comments may be submitted to:

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board
2700 Lighthouse Point East, Suite 310
Baltimore, MD 21224
Fax: 410-732-8248
E-mail: [email protected]
Web: Public comment form

Comments submitted by mail must be received no later than 3 days after the end of the comment period to be considered.

Baltimore Medical Systems new headquarters receives LEED-Platinum certification

Baltimore Medical System's (BMS) new Highlandtown Healthy Living Center officially received LEED-Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council last week.

The Highlandtown Healthy Living Center is the first Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in the country to receive LEED-Platinum Certification. The award was presented by Peter Templeton, President of the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).

BMS had not initially planned to build a green building, says Jay Wolvovsky, president and CEO. Once the healthcare organization decided to build an entirely new building, The Knott Foundation, an early funder, challenged BMS to think about building an environmentally-friendly facility that met LEED standards.

"We didn't know anything about it at all and had to do a fair amount of investigation. As we learned more, we were able to draw our own conclusions about the linkage between environmental factors and our patients' health. What is the environment of an inner city neighborhood? What are the environmental factors associated with a neighborhood that doesn't have a lot of green in it? What's the impact on water and air quality, or of lead in paint on houses? What's the environmental impact of not having enough parkland in the area so people can get exercise, keep their weight down and deal with their diabetes, obesity and heart disease," he explains.

As BMS leaders continued to weigh these factors, they began setting the bar higher and higher until finally the decision was made to go for LEED-Platinum. "It became a mission and a passion that this building would stand for more than just being the best space for us to deliver our healthcare services in. It was going to be a standard bearer for the organization, making a statement about ourselves and what we believe in and what we think is the next frontier for healthcare – dealing with public health issues, including the environment, diversity, and healthcare disparities."

The building delivers comprehensive primary care to more than 22,000 patients from over 50 countries each year. Baltimore Medical System is the largest provider of primary health care to medically underserved communities in Maryland. BMS provides special services to help uninsured, non-English speaking and other high need patient groups access care. Over 48,000 people each year receive medical services and education at BMS's six health centers throughout Baltimore City and County and six City school-based locations.

Source: Jay Wolvovsky, Baltimore Medical System
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Baltimore Community Foundation awards grants to 23 neighborhoods total of $85K in community projects

The Neighborhood Grants Program of the Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF) recently awarded $85,647 in grants to 23 community-led projects in neighborhoods across Baltimore City and County.

The BCF neighborhood grants fund a varietyy of projects like community gardens, neighborhood signs, and community festivals that have been proposed by a community organization. They reflect various interests and causes, with each project underlining the value of citizen power in action and how community organizations mobilize residents to complete a neighborhood project, build new leadership, or strengthen existing leadership within neighborhoods.

In Remington, for example, residents are working to provide constructive summer activities for neighborhood youth by organizing a first annual summer science camp. The 10-week program will provide young people with an exciting and enriching outlet during the summer months and into the fall, with lessons on steam engines, hot air balloons, solar ovens, and bio-fuels. The camp will help keep neighborhood youth off the streets and engaged in healthy activity while at the same time providing academic enrichment to combat the summer learning loss.

"The Neighborhood Grants Program is in many ways at the heart of what we do at BCF," says BCF President and CEO Tom Wilcox. "Our support of resident-led efforts to strengthen neighborhoods is a crucial investment in the life of our city, and one central to our vision of a Baltimore with a growing economy where all have the opportunity to thrive."

BCF's Neighborhood Grants Program is supported in part by the William Donald Schaefer Civic Fund at BCF, created in 2008 as a living legacy for Governor Schaefer, one that honors and perpetuates his commitment to Baltimore's neighborhoods.

BCF's 2010 Neighborhood Grants Program awards include:

Better Waverly Community Organization (Abell, Better Waverly) - $5,000
To attract more residents and merchants to Waverly's commercial corridor by designing, publishing and distributing a self-guided historic walking tour brochure focused on the area.

C.A.R.E. Community Association (Middle East) - $5,000
To discourage illegal dumping by reclaiming and beautifying a vacant lot in Baltimore's Middle East neighborhood.

Cherry Hill Community Coalition (Cherry Hill) - $5,000
To engage adults and middle school youth from Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood in establishing the Eat Healthy, Live Healthy Community Garden, which will offer farm shares to community residents.

Duncan Street Miracle Gardens (Broadway East) - $3,892.95
To help this long-standing and successful community garden pursue a rodent abatement campaign.

Edmondson Heights Civic Association (Edmondson Heights) - $2,087.50
To increase neighborhood visibility and resident pride by installing a neighborhood sign in the center of the community.

Fells Prospect Community Association (Fells Prospect) - $4,900
To discourage and reduce littering, graffiti, and crime in the neighborhood by gating a problematic alley and transforming it into a community green space.

Greater Remington Improvement Association (Remington) - $1,384.68
For the first annual Remington Science Summer Camp, a 10-week Saturday workshop series for neighborhood youth that runs from late summer through the first weeks of the school year.

Hanlon Improvement Association (Hanlon-Longwood) - $3,000
To increase the number of active community association members by hosting a day-long forum that will explore neighborhood issues and community building solutions through resident focus groups.

Hezekiah Movement (Roundhouse) - $2,000
To support the Our Families in Healing Program's participation in the SoWeBo Recovery Expo, an event that provides Southwest Baltimore residents with information and resources related to addiction recovery services and drug prevention.

Lutherville Community Association (Lutherville) - $2,357
To improve community cohesion and neighborhood identification by installing a community sign, park benches, and greenery on land that sits at the neighborhood's gateway.

Madison East End Multipurpose Center (Madison East End) - $3,250
To promote healthy eating and exercise among neighborhood youth by conducting interactive workshops that incorporate technology and field trips to address issues of proper nutrition, mental health, and physical fitness..

Milton/Montford Improvement Association (Milton/Montford, Madison East End) - $3,160
To fund a summer peace camp for neighborhood youth, ages 6-13, that offers computer classes, arts and crafts, gardening, leadership development, and field trips.

Monument East Development (Dunbar/Broadway) - $1,300
To promote community pride and resident interaction by holding a Monument East Community Day celebration.

New Greenmount West (Greenmount West) - $4,942.50
To increase community engagement, awareness, and interaction by launching a neighborhood communications campaign that includes the use of community bulletin boards, newsletters, community dinners, new resident welcome packets, and a Greenmount West stories booklet.

Oliver Community Association (Oliver) - $3,500
To promote community involvement and social interaction through two "Evening of Jazz" events, featuring live jazz performances, poetry, art, and local vendors.

Overlea Community Association (Overlea) - $5,000
For the Lead On! Overlea project, a year-long leadership and community organizing training for neighborhood residents.

Richnor Springs Neighborhood Association (Richnor Springs) - $3,000
To improve neighborhood safety through Operation Safelight, a project to install energy efficient light bulbs and timing mechanisms on porch lights of neighborhood homes to ensure that the community's streets are illuminated from "dusk 'til dawn."

Seton Hill Association (Seton Hill) - $4,000
To raise awareness about the neighborhood by holding La Fete Francaise, a free community event with an emphasis on the neighborhood's historic French origins and featuring live music, French-themed food and drink, performers, art displays, and walking tours of neighborhood landmarks.

St. Frances Neighborhood Center (Reservoir Hill) - $4,772.61
To provide information and services to neighborhood residents by hosting the 5th annual Reservoir Hill Resource Fair, which will feature employment, health, and academic vendors in a block party atmosphere.

Stevenswood Improvement Association (Stevenswood) - $5,000
To promote community pride and awareness by installing lamp post street banners featuring the name of the neighborhood, as well as by beautifying the neighborhood gateways with new planters.

Union Square Association (Union Square) - $5,000
To beautify three target blocks in the neighborhood by conducting trash clean-ups and installing and maintaining planters and raised beds for flowers, plants, and trees.

West Edmondale Community Association (Gwynn Oak) - $3,100
To engage residents in a neighborhood-wide clean-up and beautification project by holding a "Motivation Day" contest that will reward blocks claiming the greatest number of participants.

Windsor Hills Neighbors (Windsor Hills) - $5,000
To raise the neighborhood's profile and increase resident pride by cleaning up and beautifying a neighborhood gateway with a community sign, plants, and flowers.

Source: BCF
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Baltimore's CityLit Project launches CityLit Press

CityLit Project, the Baltimore-based non-profit that aims to nurture the culture of literature in Baltimore and throughout Maryland, is going into the book publishing business.

The new publishings house, CityLit Press, will offer authors who might otherwise be overlooked by larger publishers due to the literary quality or regional focus of their projects an opportunity to have their work publsihed, says Gregg Wilhelm, founder of CityLit Project.

"[We'll] publish anything that has literary merit or regional purpose. At the end of the day I get to publish anything that strikes me," he continues.

Wilhelm expects to publish two chat books and three other books each year to start, but adds that as the organization grows he hopes to put out more books.

First of the presses is the just released "City Sages: Baltimore" edited by Jen Michalski, an anthology of fiction writing; a chat book (slim volume)from CityLit's first winner of the Clarinda Harriss Poetry Prize and a post-Katrina book from a New Orleans-based poet, according to Wilhelm.

Started in 2004, CityLit Project puts on the CityLit Festival in April and the CityLit stage at the Baltimore Book Festival in September. The organization also conducts a lot of outreach with CityLit Teens and workshops to help adults develop their craft. Wilhelm, who has worked in publishing since 1992, says starting a publishing house was always "in the back of his mind."

"Launching CityLit Press took six years. We had to get [CityLit Project's] feet on the ground and establish a reputation. I don't see CityLit Press any different from CityLit Project, it is part and parcel of that mission, but I knew that it would be a program that would have th emost expenses involved. So, we needed to have a good financial base before we took on those publishing expenses," he explains.

Wilhelm meets the expenses associated with both projects through a variety of city and state grants, and ecently recieved grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Private donations are also a major soruce of support. So, to that end, CityLit Press is hosting a fundraiser tonight, June 22 at Langermann's in Canton where guests will enjoy hors d'oeuvres, beer, wine, and nonalcoholic beverages. Tickets for the event are $40 and available at the door.

The CityLit Press publications will be available on Amazon.com, independent book stores throughout the region, and also at some area Barnes & Noble stores.

Source: Gregg Wilhelm, CityLit Project
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Baltimore Grand Prix engines start revving in 2011

It's time for racing fans to start their engines. Izod IndyCar Series officials, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Jay Davidson, CEO fo the Baltimore Grand Prix and Baltimore Racing Development made it official that August 5-7, 2011, The Baltimore Grand Prix will see Indy car racers hit the streets of Baltimore at speeds of more than 230 mph.

"This is an historic day for Baltimore and the State of Maryland, as well as the entire East Coast region, as we have finalized plans for the Izod IndyCar Series racing in Baltimore in 2011," says Davidson.

The August 2011 race will be the first of a planned five-year deal between the City and the Indy Racing League, the sanctioning body for the Izod IndyCar Series. With the deal, Baltimore joins a select group of cities, including Long Beach and Indianapolis, hosting an open-wheel racing event.

"This three-day festival of speed will not just include car racing, but will feature family-friendly activities, offer great entertainment and much, much more," says Davidson.

The Baltimore Grand Prix will offer racing enthusiasts as well as those new to the sport, a combination of racing and festivities that will begin Friday morning and culminate on Sunday with the big event - the Izod IndyCar Series race. Organizers are planning a variety of non-racing activities including a family fun zone, go-karting, beer gardens, extreme sports demonstrations, and professional beach volleyball. Live music will also be a major component all weekend that will feature local artists performing during the day and nationally-known acts in the evenings.

Source: Jay Davidson, Baltimore Grand Prix and Baltimore Racing Development
Writer: Walaika Haskins


Baltimore ranks on American College of Sports Medicine's list of 50 fittest cities in U.S.

Baltimore has made American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) list of the 50 fittest cities again. The American Fitness Index (AFI) data report, "Health and Community Fitness Status of the 50 Largest Metropolitan Areas," evaluates the most populous city areas to determine the healthiest and fittest metro areas in the United States.

The report reflects a composite of preventive health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions, health care access, and community resources and policies that support physical activity. Baltimore ranked 20th with a score of 53.5, a drop from its place in the No. 19 spot in 2009.

"The ACSM American Fitness Index not only measures the state of health and fitness in our nation's largest communities, but evaluates the infrastructure, community assets, policies and opportunities which encourage residents to live a healthy and fit lifestyle," said AFI Advisory Board Chair Walt Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM. "I liken the data report and rankings to the metro areas 'getting a physical' at the doctor's office. The information learned from the physical will help each metro area identify areas of strength and weakness."

The Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) of Washington-Arlington-Alexandria scored 73.5 (out of 100 possible points) in the AFI data report to achieve the top ranking, just as it did in 2008 and 2009.

Characteristics of the D.C. area that helped it achieve the top ranking are a relatively low smoking rate, a higher-than-average percentage of folks eating the recommended daily serving of fruits and vegetables, and lower-than-average rates of chronic health concerns such as obesity, asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. D.C.-area residents also use public transportation regularly, meaning they are likely to walk to and from their places of work or transit stations. Also, the area of parkland as a percentage of the city's land area is significant, providing residents with lots of space to run, bike, play sports or take a leisurely walk.

Metro areas completing the top five were Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

The western United States dominated the top 10, with only three cities lying along the eastern seaboard. The nation's three largest cities finished in the middle of the pack with New York at 21st, Chicago at 33rd and Los Angeles at 38th.

Education made the difference, working as a valuable predictor of health and fitness; areas with a high percentage of residents with high school degrees or higher are more likely to be physically active and be in excellent or very good health. This group is also more likely to have health insurance.

Source: American College of Sports Medicine
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Pride of Baltimore names Drs. Grasmick and Alonso 2010 Persons of the Year

The Pride of Baltimore, Inc. (PoB), the nonprofit organization that manages Baltimore's famed tall ship, Pride of Baltimore II, named Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools and Dr. Andres Alonso, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools as the 2010 PRIDE Persons of the Year.

The two educators were chosen as part of the PoB's decision to reprioritize and focus on education, "In light of the upcoming War of 1812 bicentennial in a few years, and we have entered into a partnership with the Maritime Industries Academy High School to work on enhancing their STEM -- science, technoloy, engineering and math -- curriculum. We have also recently begun a partnership with the Johns Hopkins School of Education to help us with that. We're going to have 'Teach the Teachers' and 'Train the Trainers' programs onboard Pride II for STEM programs," says Linda Christenson, executive director of PoB.

The goal is to increase learning opportunities for area students, she adds. One local aspect, is the PoB's partnership with the Port of Baltimore through which the two entities will work to increase awareness among Baltimore City students, including those at the Maritime Academy, about career opportunities at the Port.

"A more far-reaching [facet] is to use the ship in terms of windspeed and currents to enhance the curriculum and make it more fun frankly for students to learn science, technology, engineering and math. And these programs won't just be limited to Maryland. We will use these at all ports of call as the ship sails internationally," says Christenson.

Dr. Grasmick and Dr. Alonso were selected as a result of their unwavering commitment to educating Maryland's future leaders. As the State Superintendent since 1991, the organization cited Dr. Grasmick's strong focus on student achievement, teacher quality, parent involvement and early childhood education. Under her leadership, Maryland is nationally recognized for its many educational achievements. For the second straight year, Education Week's 2010 Quality Counts report ranked Maryland's public school system as first in the nation, showing that Maryland consistently placed at the top of its class in the report's six determining categories, receiving the nation's only B+ average, according to the non-profit. 

It is Dr. Alonso long career that has been defined by his fervent commitment to students and their families. During his tenure as CEO, Dr. Alonso has reshaped the organization of Baltimore City's Public School System, empowering principals and revolutionizing the way education in the city is funded. Dr. Alonso's achievements have been recognized throughout the community. In 2009, he was named as only the third recipient of the "Howard Pete Rawlings Courage in Public Service" Award by the Greater Baltimore Committee, and also was appointed to the prestigious No Child Left Behind Committee for the Aspen Institute, a bipartisan effort to improve federal education policy to spur academic progress and close the achievement gap.

"I'm always slightly surprised by these awards. Superintendent is a tough job and you're always getting thrown to the wolves. It's surprising to get moments of appreciation. I work unbelievably hard and I think people know it. It helps alot to know that people feel like I've done some good for the city. I'm honest about what needs to be done, and I think that's why the work I'm doing is appreciated. It's never about the work I've done, but the work that needs to be done. I try very hard to give credit to the work our teachers and administrators are doing and the need for parents to be a part of what we do. There are huge challenges, but there's no reason we should not be trying to overcome those challenges," says Dr. Alonso.

Source: Linda Christenson, Pride of Baltimore, Inc.; Dr. Andres Alonso, Baltimore City Public Schools
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Visit Baltimore urges visitors to "find your happy place"

Visit Baltimore launched its new campaign intended to help draw tourists and conventions to Baltimore. The "Find Your Happy Place in Baltimore" campaign kicked off with a Guinness World Record that saw 261 proud citizens forming the world's largest human smiley face.

The Find Your Happy Place in Baltimore concept is derived from extensive research that shows people, more than ever, are looking to do things that make them happy after the long economic downturn, says Visit Baltimore. According to the study, people are going back to the basics and embracing the simpler things in life that make them smile and laugh – spending quality time with family and friends and traveling, among others. Visit Baltimore is capitalizing on the national mood and trend with a comprehensive program that promotes those places and things in Baltimore that are certain to make visitors happy.

The campaign is a citywide partnership that kicks off Memorial Day Weekend with an integrated marketing platform that includes advertising on television and radio, in print, and online in key target markets such as Pittsburgh, central Pennsylvania, metropolitan Philadelphia, Richmond and Washington, D.C. Partnerships with the Maryland Science Center, National Aquarium and Baltimore Orioles, among others, are allowing Visit Baltimore to extend the campaign's advertising reach and promotional schedule to ultimately influence more potential visitors with a singular marketing message. Find Your Happy Place will run through December 2010, coinciding with an exhibition at the American Visionary Art Museum, "What Makes Us Smile," opening in October.

"Partnerships with our tourism community have become the cornerstone of our marketing efforts in recent years," says Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore. "We work very closely with our hotels, attractions, museums and restaurants to gain their support and input so we can create the best sales and marketing promotions for Baltimore. We are in this together and that team spirit has never been more prevalent."

Baltimore's entire tourism community has been encouraged to participate in the Find Your Happy Place in Baltimore campaign by designating happy places at their locations and offering their own packages, special events and discounted offers that are sure to make people happy. A special microsite, www.BmoreHappy.com, will direct visitors to happy stays hotel packages; give them the ability to build custom itineraries based on what makes them happy; and provide details on how to enter a "Sweet-stakes" to win great prizes including a cruise from Baltimore on Royal Caribbean, a trip to Sarasota, Florida for Orioles spring training and a variety of other prizes.

Similar to what was done for the Waterfront Invasion in the summer of 2009, there will be Happy Place décor around the harbor that will reinforce the Happy Place in Baltimore message. People can even pick up a "Happy Detector" at the Baltimore Visitor Center to uncover hidden codes around the city that will provide them with entries in the Sweet-stakes.

According to Visit Baltimore, the campaign, which costs $500,000 for advertising, was funded by hotel taxes.

Tell us what you think:

Source: Visit Baltimore Writer: Walaika Haskins

Open Society Institute Baltimore gives $1.5M to fund job training for those with criminal records

The Open Society Institute-Baltimore has awarded $1.5 million to four local nonprofits to help low-income residents who face major barriers to employment. The gift will leverage an additional $1.5 million in state and federal funds, bringing $3 million to the state of Maryland.

The grants aim to strengthen communities by providing job training and placement for individuals with past criminal convictions. The $1.5 million will enable 141 individuals with criminal histories to be trained for jobs with career paths, such as nursing and geriatrics, advanced Microsoft Office certification, lead abatement and mold remediation, weatherization retrofitting, construction, culinary arts, construction and mechanical engineering. In addition, employers will be offered incentives--a wage subsidy for up to six months--to hire those who complete the training programs.

"People with prior convictions have an extremely difficult time re-entering the workforce. During a recession, the odds are stacked even higher against them," says Diana Morris, director of OSI-Baltimore. "These grants will help people who are working hard to get their lives on track. And local employers will benefit from a trained and highly motivated workforce."

The funding is part of a $6 million grant awarded to OSI-Baltimore by the Open Society Institute's Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation, an initiative created by George Soros in response to the recession. The fund helps leverage state and federal monies nationwide to strengthen the social safety net and expand economic opportunities for low-income people. The OSI-Baltimore grants require a one-to-one match, with most of the matching funds coming from public dollars.

"So many of these individuals want to make a fresh start and do it well and there's no better way than providing them with training for a new career and giving them the confidence to build a new life," says Debra Rubino, director of strategic communications at OSI-Baltimore.

Last fall, OSI-Baltimore awarded the first round of grants for nine Baltimore organizations and one city agency--with a special emphasis on job training, drug addiction treatment, dental care for the homeless and other urgent needs.

Founded by George Soros in 1998, OSI-Baltimore has invested more than $60 million, the largest single investment an individual has made in Baltimore to help those suffering from poverty and discrimination. This $6 million Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation grant is separate from a challenge Mr. Soros issued in 2006 when he said he would give $10 million more to OSI-Baltimore if local donors contributed an additional $20 million. To date, OSI-Baltimore has raised more than $14 million toward that goal, and the fundraising continues. All of the $20 million raised from the Baltimore community will go directly to OSI-Baltimore's core program areas.

The OSI-Baltimore grants will be awarded to:

Center for Urban Families -- $435,000 over two years to provide job training and paid internships in a variety of trades to people with past convictions and drug dependence. The participants will receive job readiness and skills training in such areas as nursing and geriatrics, advanced Microsoft Office certification, lead abatement and mold remediation, culinary arts, and construction and mechanical engineering. The Center will offer case management services and will also pay wage subsidies to employers for up to six months.

Civic Works, Inc. -- $532,000 to provide job training and paid internships to people with prior criminal records. Participants will be trained as environmental field technicians and abatement workers, as well as energy retrofit installers. All participants who successfully complete the program will be placed in entry-level green jobs. Civic Works will offer wage subsidies for up to six months.

Group Ministries, Inc. -- $215,000 to provide job training and paid internships in the building trades to people with past criminal convictions. Group Ministries will train participants to achieve journeyman status as plumbers, electricians or carpenters. The program will include a combination of classroom and on-the-job instruction, qualifying participants to be state-recognized apprentices. Group Ministries will offer employers a wage subsidy for up to six months.

Job Opportunities Task Force, Inc. -- $317,500 to provide job training and paid internships in the building trades to individuals with prior criminal records. Participants will learn job readiness, math and skills development in electrical, plumbing and carpentry. The Job Opportunities Task Force will subsidize up to six months' wages for employers who agree to hire graduates of the program.

Source: Debra Rubino, OSI-Baltimore
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Baltimore County to use $8M of federal stimulus funds to repave area roads

Baltimore County residents will soon see the impact from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant. County Executive Jim Smith is using $8 million of the funding to resurface roads throughout the county. 

The resurfacing of McCormick Road (1.8 miles from York Road to Beaver Dam Road) is the first in a series of projects that will stretch over the next two years. This event marks federal funds reaching the County to create/preserve jobs.

The grant is limited to minor arterial and collector roads - local, residential streets are excluded - and the 18 roads, covering more than 26 miles, selected for resurfacing have been apportioned evenly among the council districts:

•District 1, Westchester and Dogwood
•District 2, Sugarcone, Greenspring, and Gwynbrook
•District 3, Freeland, Graystone, and McCormick
•District 4, Dogwood and St. Lukes
•District 5, Fairmount and Hillsway
•District 6, Hazelwood, Lillian Holt, and Wilson Point
•District 7, Holabird, Merritt, and Stemmers Run 

"In every crisis, there is an opportunity, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is making the most of this opportunity by investing in projects such as educational programs and infrastructure improvements, the kind of projects that create jobs and strengthen the foundation of our communities," says Smith. "This groundbreaking legislation is investing $787 billion in the future of our nation, giving communities across our country a much needed injection of cash that has helped curb the effects of this recession and put our economy on the path to recovery."

Source: Baltimore County Development Corporation
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Baltimore Community Foundation and City team on $1M Neighbors In Deed initiative

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined Tom Wilcox, President of the Baltimore Community Foundation, to announce a new civic engagement initiative starting in the city. Neighbors In Deed is a $1 million initiative funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, the Baltimore Community Foundation, and the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Foundation to promote older adult volunteerism. The three-year program, which begins in six neighborhoods later this Spring, will recruit 1200 volunteers to contribute 500,000 hours of volunteer activity. Their combined effort is valued at more than $10 million over the three year period.

"In these difficult economic times, it is clear that we need community members to redouble their efforts to make our neighborhoods stronger and more stable for years to come," says Mayor Rawlings-Blake. "Baltimore has been at the forefront of tapping into the skills and wisdom of our older adults for a decade. This Baltimore Community Foundation initiative will allow us to help six communities in the City and County achieve important community goals they have identified by better using this valuable resource."

Older adults who volunteer will work on community enhancement efforts in six Baltimore neighborhoods: West Baltimore, Northwest Baltimore, North Baltimore, Belair Edison, Highlandtown, and Dundalk in Baltimore County. Older adults interested in volunteering can call the Baltimore Community Foundation at (410) 332-4172, extension 146.

The Intergenerational Center at Temple University will also support the program with Kellogg Foundation funding. The Center is working with the Highlandtown and Greater Homewood areas as one of six areas in the nation in its Communities for All Ages—an intergenerational initiative to help communities better meet the needs of all their residents from cradle to grave.

According to Mr. Wilcox, the Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF) is one of nine community foundations nationally to implement the project as a part of the Atlantic Philanthropies' Community Experience Partnership. Adding to Atlantic's grant are several Baltimore area foundations including BCF, the Stulman Foundation, and the Weinberg Foundation, which have committed over $500K in matching funds.

"The number of Americans over 60 will increase by almost 50 million in the next 20 years," Wilcox says. "We are proud to work with Atlantic Philanthropies and our local foundation partners to realize the potential of those who are determined to apply their experience to make a difference for others."

Each neighborhood identified priorities on which to focus with the help of a team of University of Maryland School of Social Work graduate students. Dr. Amy Cohen Callow, who led that initiative, will also do research and evaluation of the project.

  • In West Baltimore, older adult volunteers will seek to engage a cadre of younger adults to serve as the next generation of community leaders, working with the Citizen's Planning and Housing Association (CPHA).
  • In Northwest Baltimore, Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. (CHAI) will work to promote public safety by actively engaging older adults.
  • In North Baltimore, the Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation (GEDCO) and the Greater Homewood Community Corporation (GHCC) will focus on two priorities. GEDCO plans to expand a Neighbors Helping Neighbors Time Bank Program from Stadium Place to a group of surrounding neighborhoods so that older residents are assisted to remain in their community. GHCC is developing a Communities for All Ages initiative to encourage families with young children to remain in the Charles Village community by strengthening the two neighborhood public schools.
  • In East Baltimore, Belair Edison is developing block-by-block leadership thru an expansion of the Neighborhood Ambassador Program.

In South Baltimore, the Southeast Community Development Corporation will involve older adults in Highlandtown in multi-cultural and intergenerational efforts to strengthen the social infrastructure of the neighborhood.

Source: Mayor's Office
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Office of Sustainability releases Baltimore's first sustainability report

The Baltimore Office of Sustainability has released its first annual report. Developed with the input of more than 1,000 residents, the Baltimore Sustainability Plan, was adopted by the Baltimore City Council in March, 2009. The annual report outlines the progress made to date toward achieving Plan goals and highlights the work underway that city leaders hope will benefit the economic, social, and environmental health of Baltimore.

The report identifies the seven major areas that define the goals of the Sustainability Plan: Cleanliness; Pollution Prevention; Resource Conservation; Greening; Transportation; Education and Awareness; and Green Economy. Each section includes a feature story that highlights the accomplishments toward achieving the goal as well as "Steps You Can Take" that provide citizens with suggested actions they can take to move the process forward.

"Sustainability becomes increasingly more important to us as a City, a State and a nation because we recognize that our global resources are finite," says Mayor Rawlings-Blake. "By making smart decisions about how we use resources, and involving residents in the process, we can save money, improve quality of life, and position Baltimore to benefit from growing investment and job creation in the green economy."

The report includes a feature on the city's Green and Healthy Homes Initiative that seeks to improve health outcomes for Baltimore households while saving residents money on their energy bills and reducing their environmental impact. The program, which has roots in Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, is now being replicated in cities throughout the country.

The benefits of the program exemplify the triple bottom line goals of sustainability; healthier homes lead to families with less asthma and lead paint cases, residents save money on utility bills and find jobs in green trades, while at the same time reducing energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions.

Also featured are the Harbor Connector water taxi service and the Charm City Circulator, recent expansions in Baltimore's public transportation system. The water taxi service from Fells Point to Tide Point averaged 200 trips daily during an 8-month period , thereby reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

Launched in January 2010, the Charm City Circulator, hybrid buses that offer free bus service throughout Harbor East and downtown, recently celebrated its 100,000th passenger. Service extends to the west to the B&O Railroad museum and soon will include the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus to the north. These sustainable transportation developments help bolster the local economy by expanding options for employees to reach their jobs and for visitors to explore Baltimore, according to the city.

Source: Baltimore Mayor's Office
Writer: Walaika Haskins

Maryland Food Bank nabs $492K to expand services

Maryland's congressional delegation presented the Maryland Food Bank with a check for $492,000 to help the non-profit organization feed the growing number of Marylanders seeking its services. The funding for the Maryland Food Bank was included in the omnibus appropriations bill that was enacted into law in December 2009.

The Maryland Food Bank provides meals to approximately 44,600 Marylanders a week and 261,000 people a year. Since the economic downturn began in 2008, the Maryland Food Bank has reported a 30 to 50 percent increase in the demand for food. Many of its clients work fulltime and were considered middle class before the recession.

"In this recession, too many Marylanders have been faced with the difficult decision of whether to buy food or pay other bills such as rent, heat or health care," says Senator Ben Cardin, a member of the Senate Budget Committee. "The Maryland Food Bank provides a valuable service in helping to feed our state's hungry, and I am committed to ensuring they have the resources they need to carry out their mission."

The Maryland Food Bank, an affiliate of Feeding America, was founded in 1979 to coordinate the procurement and distribution of food donations from manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and government agencies to organizations providing free food to the state's hungry. It provides nearly 14 million pounds of food annually to 1,000 Network Partners -- including food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, low-income day care centers, after-school programs, senior centers, rehabilitation centers, and other feeding programs.

"This funding couldn't have come at a better time – when the fastest-growing segment of those in need is people who work fulltime and were considered middle-class before the economic recession," Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger says. "The Maryland Food Bank has been helping Maryland families get back on their feet for decades and this funding will now help them put a new roof over their own heads. I am proud to be a part of Team Maryland and will continue to fight to ensure Marylanders have the resources they need to weather this financial storm."

The Maryland Food Bank will use the funds to make improvements to its office spaces, install a new roof at the food bank's 87,000-square-foot distribution center in Baltimore, and other capital needs.

"The mission of the Maryland Food Bank is one of mercy," says Congressman Elijah Cummings. "That our land of plenty has citizens who go hungry is a national embarrassment. The Maryland Food Bank has done incredible work to fix this problem, and I am proud to help it continue that mission, in the words of its motto, until hunger ends."

Over the last 18 months, the Maryland Food Bank and its network of soup kitchens, food pantries and feeding programs have seen an increase in the demand for food of 30 – 50 percent. There has been an 11 percent increase in those accessing feeding programs serviced by the Maryland Food Bank over the last four years.

"In these difficult economic times, the Maryland Food Bank is playing a critical role providing food for the hungry," says Congressman John Sarbanes. "The Maryland Food Bank has been a lifeline for struggling families who didn't know where their next meal was going to come from."

"Because of the efforts of Senators Cardin and Mikulski and Representatives Sarbanes, Ruppersberger and Cummings, the Maryland Food Bank secured critical funding that will help us improve our operations so that we can get more food to more people in need," says Deborah Flateman, Maryland Food Bank CEO.

"We are building a movement to end hunger in Maryland while building a strong, effective organization that can meet the needs of those we serve," Flateman adds.

Source: Maryland Food Bank
Writer: Walaika Haskins 

Baltimore City Health Dept. and Pratt libraries fight city's food deserts with virtual supermarkets

The Baltimore City Health Department has launched an innovative new program last week designed to address so-called food deserts, neighborhoods without eacy access to a supermarket and healthyfood options, in the city.

The Virtual Supermarket Project allow residents in and around East Baltimore and the Washington Village neighborhood to order groceries online at their local libraries and pick them up at the same locations the next day. It is currently operating at the Washington Village and Orleans Street Enoch Pratt Free Library branches.

"This program will make these neighborhoods stronger and healthier, allowing residents the same access to full-service, competitively priced grocery stores that much of the rest of the city enjoys," says Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Both sites are located in food deserts. The surrounding neighborhoods were identified as having the greatest need for the project. Washington Village has the 6th highest mortality burden out of the 55 city community areas for causes of death related to diet, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The Perkins/Middle East neighborhood ranked 19th in this category.

"In many densely populated cities, including Baltimore, residents of some communities must choose between shopping at small corner stores that lack fresh produce or paying a premium for a ride far outside their area. This is not a fair choice," says Interim Commissioner Farrow. "We are hoping that if this program is successful, we can partner with more grocery stores and expand the program to other areas of Baltimore where there is need."

The Virtual Supermarket Project was piloted last year as an innovative way to address food access problems in Baltimore City. It is funded by a $60,000 grant. The Health Department partnered with the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which offered to house the program. Santoni's Supermarket, a long-time Baltimore City grocer, is currently the primary provider of supermarket items for the program. The Center for Design Practice at MICA provided ideas on marketing/branding the project.

A neighborhood designated as a food desert has no supermarkets within walking distance and lacks other resources that would provide healthy, inexpensive food. Corner stores and fast food or take-out restaurants are common in these areas, but they generally only offer unhealthy options. Healthy staples at corner stores, if they are available, can cost as much as 20% more than they would cost in supermarkets. Few residents of the neighborhoods targeted by the program own their own vehicles (66 percent of the households in the Perkins/Middle East area do not have vehicles, 48 percent in Washington Village), making travel to a distant supermarket an obstacle.

At the Orleans Street branch, residents may order their groceries each Wednesday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and collect their orders the following day between 1 and 2 p.m. The Orleans Street library is located at 1303 Orleans Street (21231). Residents of the Washington Village area may order at their library branch on Mondays between noon and 3 p.m., and pick up their orders each Tuesday between 1 and 2 p.m. The Washington Village library is located at 856 Washington Boulevard (21230). Accepted forms of payment include cash, checks, credit cards and food stamps.

For more information on the Virtual Supermarket Program, visit the website.

Source: Baltimore City Health Department
Writer: Walaika Haskins

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